“I WILL be a mayor for all the people of Limerick”.
These were the words of new Mayor of Limerick City and County, Cllr Stephen Keary on his elevation to the mayoral office this week. During his speech at County Hall on Monday, the Fine Gael man expressed his ambition to harness the positive and be a representative of all sectors of society.
Following last month’s Adare-Rathkeale district meeting, Cllr Keary came under heavy fire after claiming that social welfare tourists from Eastern Europe see Ireland as “easy pickings”. The Galway-born engineer also maintained that this was part of the reason for the substantial rise in the numbers on social housing lists and hospital waiting lists in recent years.
However, after securing 27 votes to be elected Mayor this week, he apologised for a second time following the debacle and vowed to be a mayor for all the people of Limerick.
“I know some media reports in the last fortnight may have portrayed me in a different light and again, as I have said already, I sincerely apologise to those people to whom my comments caused offence,” Mayor Keary said.
“I will be an ambassador for Limerick at home and abroad and encourage continued investment and the creation of opportunities for our young people. 2017 and 2018 will be hugely important for the future of Ireland as Britain prepares to exit the European Union and I believe we here in the Mid West region need to speak with one voice.”
While many of the local councillors present felt the new Mayor’s word “drew a line in the sand” on his controversial remarks, others instead felt a “dark cloud” hung over proceedings.
“You are off to a fairly bad start,” Sinn Fein councillor Malachy McCreesh told the city and county’s new first citizen.
Fine Gael councillor John Sheahan expressed greater confidence in his party colleague.
“I have no fear you will do a great job. His apology was heartfelt and he will be judged by what he does in the next 12 months,” he added.
Party colleague in the Adare-Rathkeale district, Cllr Adam Teskey praised him for his “integrity and honesty”.
Independent councillor Emmett O’Brien also rallied in behind Mayor Keary.
“He is an excellent representative for his community. He apologised twice. What more do you expect of him?” Cllr O’Brien asked.
Solidarity councillor Cian Prendiville referred to the new mayor as “a bargain basement Donald Trump”. He described his apology as “half-hearted” and would settle for nothing other than a full retraction for his hurtful comments.
“Say it is untrue not just offensive,” he said.
However, Fianna Fail councillor Michael Collins felt there was no need for a retraction or further apologies.
“Draw a line in the sand,” he suggested.
Moldovan-born Labour councillor Elena Secas also felt it was “time to move on”.
She described Mayor Keary’s comments about Eastern Europeans as “very unhelpful” but was glad he clarified his remarks and apologised for them.
Sinn Fein councillor Ciara McMahon pointed out that his memorable day was “tarnished” by his comments.
“There is a dark cloud settling over us. I hope you will turn this situation around. Take it on the chin and make it better for the city and county,” she said.
Outgoing Mayor Kieran O’Hanlon had “no doubt” about his successor’s ability to be a great mayor.
“Your apology is accepted and I have no doubt you will be a mayor for all the people,” he added.
Independent councillor John Loftus, a Scottish migrant, told Cllr Keary how his comments had really affected him and his Hungarian-born wife.
“That apology – I hope you mean it. It really affected my wife and me. I can’t congratulate you today,” he commented.
Sinn Fein councillor Séighin Ó Ceallaigh called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, “a son of a migrant”, to make a public statement on Keary’s comments.
“Cllr Keary made these racist comments in Council, then defended them several times. However on the eve of the mayoral election, he decided to make a half-hearted apology. The wool won’t be pulled over people’s eyes that easily. Cllr Keary needs to make a real apology, and tell the public that what he said was completely wrong, and retract it entirely,” he said.
“In the chamber we have previously complained about the racist views of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Well now as Mayor of Limerick, we have our very own, Donald Farage.”
Fine Gael councillor Daniel Butler then pointed out to those around the council chamber that the key to politics is “forgiveness”.
Marion Hurley (FG) was also elected as Deputy Mayor of Limerick City and County at Monday’s mayoral elections.
by Alan Jacques